Thursday, June 13, 2024


In an article at Crisis entitled “Do Conservatives Drive People Away from the Church”, the author makes several great points that it is untrue, that liberals, be they Catholic or Protestant, are the ones driving people away from the Church and have done so since liberal Protestantism’s embrace of modernism in the late 1800’s that inspired Protestant fundamentalism in the late teens and 1920’s. 

But what the author includes in his article is this on the liturgy. Enjoy:

 I am not, here, going to get into an argument about the traditional Latin Rite and the Novus Ordo. I will say two things, which may end up pleasing nobody, but I say them because I want to bring good and beautiful things to as many people as are ready to receive them. One is that the Novus Ordo, as I have seen it celebrated in most places, is underwhelming. It features clunky or stupid or heretical lyrics sung to hippity-hop show-tune melodies, or, incongruously, to a genuine hymn melody dragged into service, as if you might fit a portrait of St. Ronald McDonald into Fra Angelico’s Last Judgment. The ambience is chatty rather than joyful, slightly bored rather than solemn. Much of the action is performed, as it were, ad lib, as if it did not much matter how it is done, or even if it is done at all.

I have also witnessed the Novus Ordo celebrated both reverently and intelligently and filled with beautiful music, solemn ceremony, and devout prayer. I will freely grant that a pastor must go out of his way to do so: for one thing, it means getting rid of both the bad music and the show-off way in which it is presented to the audience, I mean, the congregation. But here I warn the traditionalists that people starved for beauty may need more help than a series of Latin chants can give them.  Chant melodies are horizontally difficult, and you lose the effect of singing a fine poem in your own language to a melody you can remember exactly.  

We must try to approach people where they are; and we should keep in mind that at least one of the aims of sacred music is akin to that of sacred poetry, that it should enter the memory and make it fruitful; it may thus be more than what you have heard, or even what in a special setting you have sung, but what you can hear in your mind’s ear ever after, and sing out when the Spirit moves you.  

It is good that the traditional rite is not approachable as a deli counter is. But it is also good if what is sung is approachable, indeed memorable in the strict sense, as the Psalms were for any faithful Hebrew who wished, in the quiet of his mind, to pray by singing. 

In general, though, the more sharply distinct the liturgy is from the mundane, the better. If you want lousy music, you don’t have to haul yourself to church to get it. It is readily available on the radio or the net. If you want superficial bonhomie, you can go to a park and get some sunshine and fresh air along with it. Eastern Rite churches are drawing people in droves, if for no other reason than that the rites are not like anything else in our usual experience, which, again, is singularly drab, even when drab comes in garish color.


monkmcg said...

The author makes some good points - but contradicts some of them when he points out the growth in the Eastern Rite liturgies. Yes; we "meet people where they are", but we do not leave them there... otherwise we have a race to the bottom. People can learn to sing/chant the psalms; over time, they can learn to love doing so.

Pastors have to realize that what may initially drive some away can eventually bring them back.

TJM said...

But the Novus Ordo is holy, holy, holy! This author nailed it. The braindead will not accept this legitimate criticism

Bob said...

Well, as most articles by Catholics, of whatever rite fan club, it was seemingly mostly comparing marketing campaigns and markets, and using what sells...

As for a critique of music as found at majority of masses, of either stripe, I would be all for ditching it entire, as the music is either bad before ever a note sung, or the music is good and butchered by people who are clueless as to proper way it is done, in particular the butchery of chant. Do those choirs and directors ever listen to monastery choir recordings? Does it enter their mind to do so and make the effort to sing it properly? Even use the numerous web resources?

Mark Thomas said...

Anthony Esolen said..."I have also witnessed the Novus Ordo celebrated both reverently and intelligently and filled with beautiful music, solemn ceremony, and devout prayer. I will freely grant that a pastor must go out of his way to do so..."

I am not certain as to why "a pastor must go out of his way" to offer the Holy Mass of Pope Saint Paul VI "reverently and intelligently...with beautiful music, solemn ceremony, and devout prayer."

Anyway, in line with Mister Esolen, I have encountered said Mass offered as described. I am able with ease to find such beautiful Holy Masses throughout my diocese.

It is a given that the pews at said Masses will be packed with holy Catholics (I am a sinner) who love God and His Holy Mass. It is also a given that many young Catholics will be present at Mass.


Mark Thomas

— Pope Benedict XVI, 2007 A.D: "There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman rupture."

Bob said...

Mark, another stunning set of quotations dealing with nothing about the blog post, whose author has again and again his own self advocated for reverent new rites as entirely fitting. I'll not disagree with referenced article writer, either, but I don't need fall back on quotes of Father McDonald or Esolen to speak for me or defend my own position while I remain as invisible in the background as a ghost.

Frankly, I prefer the old rite as far more amicable to actual prayerful union with God and the sacrifice...

but also frankly admit the modern tries at the old rite nearly as bad as the new rite, as attendees almost all today refugees from the new rite with ingrained audience participation mindset, union with God entirely forgotten, following the instruction manual with nose buried is paramount, aping every liturgical move in thundering stand/sit/kneel and kneeler impacts echoing for miles....particularly onerous is the copying of every move of monk choirs, drowning out the only good versions of chant ever heard.

The Church today is decidedly unfriendly today to those who actually want to prayerfully worship, no matter what rite preferred. If you want to do that, must come any time EXCEPT mass....and then generally find the doors locked. House of prayer? Ha!

qwikness said...

I think part of the appeal of Eastern Liturgy is the sense that it is something ancient and other worldly and therefore important. The casual liturgy of some Western churches provides the sense that they are trying to be lowered and approachable but that seems to lessen significance of what is happening. The intention, I am sure is the best, to make God accessible as a brother. However the Eastern Liturgy always makes me think of Jesus not as a brother but as a King. And that is awesome. A good regular Novus Ordo Mass makes me think of neither of these but Jesus as a sacrificial meal. Which is alright, it's neither good or bad just average and leaves me wanting. A traditional Latin Mass seems special, celebrating God on High.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

"Ancient" and "otherworldly" might also be understood as "bygone" and "exotic," not necessarily the type of experience many would find uplifting or prayerful.

Mark - I have never had "to go out of my way" to celebrate the mass in a reverent manner.

Mark Thomas said...

Father Kavanaugh said..."Mark - I have never had "to go out of my way" to celebrate the mass in a reverent manner."

Father Kavanaugh, thank you for your comment.

Anthony Esolen's comment in question did strike me as realistic — at least within my diocese. Reverent, uplifting Masses abound, for example, throughout my diocese. I do not have any reason to believe that any priest here must go out of his way to celebrate a reverent Mass.

In addition, via the internet, I have encountered worldwide one reverent Holy Mass of Pope Saint Paul VI after another.

Father Kavanaugh, thank you for your many years of holy service to God and His Church. Deo gratias for you!


Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas said...

A correction please.

I had written: "Anthony Esolen's comment in question did strike me as realistic..."

I had meant to state that "Anthony Esolen's comment in question did not strike me as realistic..."

Mea culpa!

Mark Thomas

ByzRus said...

Yes, Eastern Christianity is enjoying a resurgence in places.

Our Southern missions are a source of that growth while some parishes in the Northeast are experiencing challenges.

People are free to perceive what they will, react as they will. What is considered beautiful to one, could be overwhelming and cause discomfort in another. Our humanity.

I've borrowed heavily from the Orthodox Church here as their size makes these materials more accessible. We do the same thing, with some minor "regional" type differences.

Source, AI:
"The Orthodox Christian Church's Divine Liturgy, also known as the Eucharist, is a distinctive and appealing part of Orthodox worship. The liturgy is rich in theology and spiritual significance, and it's a key part of the church's identity and continuity.

Sensory experience
The liturgy uses elaborate rituals and choreography to engage all five senses, creating a multisensory encounter with the divine.

Otherworldly feel
Some say the liturgy can make worship feel like a scene from the book of Revelation, transporting the worshipper to a heavenly place.

Connection to the original church
Some people who have left other Christian denominations for Eastern Orthodoxy are drawn to its claim of being the original church founded by Christ."

Ancient? Otherworldly? Uplifting? Engaging? Bygone? Exotic?

To us, it's passion, respect, reverence, awe, glory, prayer, supplication, community, It's timeless as our concept of time is not that of the Father.

Whether or not a given individual agrees, is up to that individual to decide.

Some beauty follows, many of the featured churches are newer than the average church in the U.S.:

From Great and Holy Friday:

TJM said...


Very nicely stated!

Nick said...

Gosh, who would ever think that the liturgy that brings heaven to Earth, and brings us outside of time to the foot of the Cross, should be otherworldly in some way. No, better that it be work-a-day and just like anything else the average person does. Surely, it is best not make it so pedestrian and mundane that the average person sees little reason to engage at all. I guess we're seeing the results of that mentality, in real time. Surely, more of the same that has had such poor results will lead to better results! The sacred mysteries of the liturgy should not be treated as if they're anything unusual or different.


Nick said...

Correction: "Surely, it is best to make it so pedestrian..."

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Ol' Nick - The liturgy is not about transporting heaven to us or taking us to the foot of the cross at Calvary.

Our worship of God at the altar of sacrifice - whether that altar is a baroque malachite expression as is found in St. Paul Outside the Walls or a simple wooden altar as is found in Holy Spirit Church in Macon, Georgia, where I was pastor - is about the power of the sacrifice, not the decor, to take away sins, heal, and transform us so that we can transform the world. The mystical power is there, in front of us, whatever the materials used to adorn the church building

If what you want are breathless oooh's and aaah's brought on by massive bronze candlesticks, sacred vessels inlaid with the semi-precious stones and intricate champleve enamelwork, all of which can be quite beautiful, then you're seeking the wring things from the mass.

I hope people are engaged by the otherworldly mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. Treat the mysteries as what they are, not museum pieces to be gawked at, but powers to reform us.

Nick said...


Is the Mass not a way in which we unite with the heavenly liturgy? Is your quibble that I said it brings heaven to us rather than bringing us to heaven?

Does it not make present the Sacrifice of Christ? Is your quibble this time that I said it brings us to the foot of the Cross rather than the other way around?

That's basic CCC stuff--paragraphs 1327 and 1329. Granted, that wasn't around for the sophistic-ated 1970s seminaries.

Who said anything about the decor, Father? Who said anything about Baroque altars? I didn't. ByzRus didn't (good like finding Baroque architecture in most Eastern Christian churches). qwikness didn't. You brought it up.

We're talking about liturgy and ritual, and whether it should communicate something unique and not of this world (i.e., of Heaven, though Heaven might be too "exotic") or something more mundane. Or rather, we were, until you straw-manned so aggressively that the scarecrow is just so much scattered hay.

But I do agree with you--one can have dreadfully dull, uninspiring liturgies in beautiful spaces just as one can have dull, uninspiring liturgies in dull, uninspiring spaces (i.e., too many parishes across the US).


Nick said...

Apologies--CCC 1326 and 1330.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Ol' Nick - First, if you want to know who said anything about decor and baroque altars, read the original quote from CRISIS magazine.

Second, so what if heaven is brought to us and/or we are taken to the foot of the cross? Is that phenomenon of mystical transportation in either direction all that the mass is meant to accomplish?

While we are enjoying the beatific vision, where does that leave the widow, the orphan, and the stranger? While we are moved to tears by the exquisite Gregorian chants, who digs a well in an African village? As we marvel at the lace on the priest's alb, what happens to the homeless kid living in the alley behind the church?

If our experience of God's presence is clouded, literally, by billowing clouds of incense, if we push God's presence further into the realms of glory by using languages that no one speaks in everyday life, how are the people in the pews supposed to understand that God is not apart from us like the great and powerful Oz, but that He has pitched his tent among us?

Esolen doesn't, but I want the liturgy to be very approachable, because that's the only place it can impact a person's communal life. Liturgy isn't about my experience of the Divine. It is about how I am changed by that experience and how that change causes me to do right and to seek justice.